it has been some three weeks since this page posted a bit called 'rich hill in context', which made a point of trying to highlight just how special the four-season minor league career of hill had been -- particularly since 2005 -- as a vehicle by which to lobby you, dear reader, for forbearance as hill found his way early in his major league career. of course, that bit had been preceded by earlier ones -- here and here and here and even going back to 2005 here and here -- pointing up just how much more this page considered hill to be worthy of the extended opportunity to prove his mettle than many of his peers in the cub farm system.
the cubs and their fans have been equally guilty in the past of passing summary judgment (both for and against) on either far too little or deeply misconstrued data, knowledge and understanding. such irrational judgment was approaching hill from many influential but unknowledgable and immoderate quarters even before a sensible handful of major league innings had been pitched (indeed, as soon as the aftermath of his first appearance on a major league field). and it, at least in the view of this page, thankfully did not carry the day.
but what this page attempted to express in words was always going to be much better expressed if it could be by rich hill himself in innings pitched at the major league level -- and he has thankfully seized the opportunity (thusfar) to do exactly that.
including and since his start of august 1, hill has posted in eight appearances (seven of which were starts) 50 innings of 2.70 era baseball, allowing just 36 hits and 14 walks for a 1.00 whip, .193 baa and .253 obpa, along with 45 strikeouts. he's arguably been the cubs best starter since the all star break, bettering zambrano in era, obpa and opsa. and of the 35 rookie pitchers in baseball since the break who have made more than five starts, hill ranks 9th in era (3.21) in a list that constitutes a who's-who of blue-chip pitching prospects.
the latest installment, coming last night, may prove to be the highwatermark for some time to come. hill moved through the impatient pittsburgh side, fanning 11 over 7.1 innings and 111 pitches, while allowing just seven baserunners, one of which was the result of a dropped third strike. this page noted again the ability of hill to respond to trouble, always a sign of a good pitcher. this time, in the first when leadoff hitter chris duffy walked on four pitches to open the game, hill reacted by striking out the side, including jason bay and national league batting leader freddy sanchez. but it wasn't again until the eighth that hill found trouble again, when, following a juan castillo single to open the frame, the cubs infield were unable to field pinch-hitter jack wilson's well-executed but expected bunt, leaving hill to field the ball late and make an errant throw, tying the game 1-1.
yet another ronny cedeno error -- who now, at .951, has the worst fielding percentage of anyone in baseball with more than 350 chances -- put hill in a position to take the loss in spite of it. but he was rescued from that fate by derrek lee's eighth-inning grand slam (oh, how we've missed you, sir) that put the game in the cubs' hands and elevated them -- at least temporarily -- over the pirates in the central.
to be sure, hill is not perfect -- his delivery to the plate is slow and he is particularly susceptible to the stolen base for a lefthander, and he is a flyball pitcher who lives and dies upstairs with a rising fastball. that kind of pitcher will always surrender a higher amount of runs than one might like, because runners will run into scoring position more often than normally and hitters will hit mistakes into the stands with alarming frequency. pairing him with a strong-armed catcher may be of great interest.
and this page, for one, doesn't think hill is going to mount a sub-3 earned run average for whole seasons -- what he has done lately has been brilliant, but there will be bad days too.
however, it is here hoped that the minimum of what can now be said is that hill has proved his promise and deserves -- in his own best interests, but more importantly the cubs' -- to be in the starting rotation in 2007. moreso than sean marshall, moreso than angel guzman, moreso than mark prior (upon whom nothing can be relied for next season), and moreso than juan mateo (another cubs pitcher that this page regards and has regarded highly), rich hill should be taking the mound in regular turns next season in order to capitalize upon and flesh out the development we all have seen from him this year. and it is up to jim hendry to make sure it happens.